By Richard B. Muhammad -Editor-
The movie 12 Years A Slave tells a harrowing and disturbing tale. It should: The movie is about a free Black man, tricked, kidnapped and sold into slavery. It’s due for release in October but a recent showing at the Toronto Film Festival shocked some so much that they left the theater. The beatings and killings of the slaves were just too much to take.
It was simply too violent, too graphic, they said. Perhaps it was too much truth.
The absolutely sadistic, perverse and extreme-reality-torture of slavery is a story still untold.
Director Steve McQueen, a Black Brit by way of Trinidad, has been unapologetic in his dramatization of the true life story of Solomon Northrop, who was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841.
The usual portrayal of slavery offers a fantasy of a flawed institution run by people who simply made mistakes. Slave owners are not called child killers, serial rapists, psychopaths or vile scum of the earth. No. They are Founding Fathers, visionaries and architects of democracy, those who birthed an exceptional nation, a city of light on a hill. Lies. Lies. Damn lies.
When talk turns to the Jewish Holocaust under Adolph Hitler, there is no attempt to refute, sugarcoat, whitewash or explain away the horror. Denying the Holocaust is a crime in some European nations. It is not surprising that Jewish people make sure the world never forgets their suffering. They hunt anyone thought to be involved to the ends of earth and would demand justice if the person was in a coma. Justice, they would say, demands pulling the plug. This one took a life unjustly and deserves to lose his life, they would argue.
If you know who you are and love yourself, you demand justice. You understand your life is valuable. You refuse to allow anyone who takes a life to get off scot-free. So you don’t see movies about Jewish women in love with their Nazi captors, no stories of unrequited love affairs between two people trapped on opposite sides of a tragedy. No Jewish people proudly claim, “My ancestor was Rudolph Hess, a loyal Hitler deputy who committed suicide out of devotion to the Nazi cause. My great grandmother and Nazi grandfather met at a death camp. They couldn’t help but fall in love. We want to have a reunion with the Hess side of the family. We are one.”
We are taught the obscenity of the Holocaust. It is burned in our brains by those whose loved ones were burned in ovens. We see the depravity, the world failure to act and the world sitting idly by as a witness to an orgy of extermination.
Why don’t we feel the same way about slavery? Why do we persist in insulting and humiliating stories of teen slaves and pedophilic slave masters in love in Paris? Why do we proudly claim ancestry with and want to picnic with the descendants of those who abused and raped our grandmothers? We don’t even demand reparations, apologies, the building of monuments and teaching about their suffering and why a price must be paid for their humiliation.
But why in a world of exploding heads and gushing blood on video games, hanging from meat hooks in movies, decapitations and severed limbs on film is the beating and murder of the slave so disturbing? It is disturbing because it reflects, not totally captures, but somewhat reflects the reality of Black suffering. It forces acknowledgment of what was done and begs the question, what type of human beings engage in such butchery and debauchery for centuries? It shatters myths about glorious Western nations and exposes the lies of a just nation and a noble example for the world.
Any relatively accurate depiction of slavery brings this country and culture face to face with devilish acts under which Blacks suffered and the bloody foundation upon which the United States is built. That truth makes it difficult to arrogantly crow about “American exceptionalism” and her right to judge and police the world. But instead of breaking the mirror and diving into denial, perhaps this nation should face the truth and repent. Lying will never make things right.
(Final Call editor-in-chief Richard B. Muhammad can be reached at [email protected] finalcall.com. You can also follow him on Facebook and @RMfinalcall on Twitter.)